The Secret Service’s response to its embarrassing Colombian prostitute scandal — like the GSA response to its infuriating Las Vegas spend-a-thon — says a lot about the bureaucratic mindset.
In an effort to prevent agents from engaging in future drunken romps with hookers, the Secret Service has tightened guidelines. Agents working overseas now are “banned from drinking on duty, visiting ‘disreputable establishments’ and bringing foreigners into hotel rooms.” These are viewed as “common-sense enhancements” of existing rules, and will be accompanied by more “ethics sessions” for staff. In short, the Secret Service, like the GSA before it, is relying on more regulation and more bureaucracy to solve its problem.
Does anyone really think, however, that the wording of regulations is what caused this scandal? Does the Secret Service really believe that the agents who got drunk in a strip club and took Colombian streetwalkers back to their hotel rooms consulted the employee guidelines before they guzzled their first shot of vodka?
The problem is not with regulations, but with people. If the Secret Service has hired agents who thought their behavior in Colombia was acceptable, then the problem runs a lot deeper than tweaking the terms of Regulation 12.3(b)(iii). The processes that led to the hiring of the agents failed, and the training that helped to shape their behavior also failed. The Secret Service needs to take a comprehensive look at how it selects and schools the people who protect our President. It needs to figure out how to identify, hire, and promote individuals with qualities like responsibility, dedication, and judgment — because the agents involved in the Colombia scandal sorely lacked those crucial qualities.
It’s time our government understood that we must put our faith in people, not regulations. You can’t regulate reckless people into responsible people.